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MLB players union, steroids...

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
(from the New York Times)

Union Misses the Mark on Testing in Baseball

Published: March 22, 2004

ONCE upon a time, it was Gene Upshaw who was on the Senate hot seat, the head of a recalcitrant union, the primary defendant in a political show and tell.

"Both sides ought to get on this issue," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, told Upshaw, the executive director of the National Football League Players Association, on the subject of stricter steroid testing in May 1989.

Upshaw's early position on random testing conducted year-round was articulated months before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and amounted to what we might describe today as Fehr and loathing. "In the N.F.L. or N.B.A. or baseball, just because you have a God-given ability, you still don't have to give up your rights in this country," Upshaw said in 1988.

Nearly 15 years after changing his mind and days after chiding baseball's glacial movement on performance-enhancing drugs in another Senate hearing, Upshaw said in a telephone interview, "Privacy and the Fourth Amendment are nice arguments, but they don't fit in what we're doing."

So what convinced Upshaw to change his mind, to line up on the other side of the ball in 1990 with the former commissioner Pete Rozelle?

"When your players tell you they don't want steroids in the game, then you go and negotiate a policy that's serious," he said.

Those cracking sounds you may be hearing are the smirks contorting the stone faces of Donald Fehr and Gene Orza, who run baseball's players union and who seem to believe that being mentored by Marvin Miller makes them the most devout union men in the United States.

The football players, they would argue, caved on steroids the way they succumbed to a hard salary cap. They acquiesced, as always, because they were never willing to consolidate their power by holding a picket line together.

On those issues related to financial governance and job security, Fehr and Orza would be largely correct, but in defining a tough steroid policy as a collective bargaining concession as opposed to a benefit, they demonstrate how badly they miss the enhancement mark.

Did you notice last week how Fehr indicated in carefully crafted sentences and through a variety of reliable mouthpieces how he might be willing to toughen baseball's puny steroid policy if the owners are prepared to reopen the collective bargaining agreement? There you go: give us something in return, enhanced earning potential, and we will agree to rules that create a safer work environment, reduce cheating and the possibility of criminal involvement and public shame.

Steroid use in baseball is now a fact, based on last season's survey testing that produced 5 to 7 percent positive results. No drug-testing expert worth his lab coat believes these mostly announced tests weren't circumvented by many more players, but let's make the conservative assumption that at least 51 percent do not use performance-enhancing drugs. How, then, is a stricter program that aims to protect the majority from the cheaters a bargaining concession?

This is a question more players should be asking, Upshaw said, adding, "The minute enough of them say they want steroids out, there will be a change."

Those who have spoken out, intelligently, not hysterically, are the heroes so far. John Smoltz and Todd Zeile, to name two, but most baseball players, not unlike the owners, have been conditioned by a decade of indifference to believe they could operate in a parallel sports universe.

"The world has changed dramatically over the last 18 months," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said last week. No, it hasn't. It woke up to baseball's exploitation of a scourge others began fighting a long time ago.

In 1986, Rozelle unilaterally implemented steroid testing in the N.F.L. Yet it took a player — Bill Fralic, a Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Falcons — to say at the 1989 Senate hearing that steroid use was widespread and that the early tests were "designed to catch stupid people." Fralic, an admitted steroid user in college, went on to rally players to the enlightened position that giving more urine was no labor give-back.

For those who didn't want to choose between risking their careers and their health, it was a benefit, a blessing, a rare industry-wide bonding. "Whatever other issues management and labor may disagree upon, there is complete agreement between us on this," Upshaw said in a statement with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue at this month's Senate baseball hearing, at which Fehr did more stonewalling.

Is the N.F.L.'s policy that tests year-round and suspends a player for four games, or a quarter of the season, for a first offense punitive enough? That's debatable, but it is superior to a baseball plan that was years late, cynically designed to disappear and would have had the first two years of testing come in less than 5 percent positive.

Now Fehr and Orza are undoubtedly counting on the start of the season to quell the steroid furor. Home runs will fly. Ballparks will fill. The mouthpieces will parrot the party line that the controversy has been way overblown.

Using that logic, Woodward and Bernstein would have walked away from Watergate. Closer to home, the few journalists who decried an old baseball outrage known as the reserve clause would have noted the public's overwhelming opposition to granting the players their contractual freedom and written nothing.

In the end, change must come from within. "When players tell you, `If you don't stop it, I'll have to start using them,' you know you have to do something," Upshaw said.

That's because the story of steroid use that must be rigorously pursued is simply about the choice between right and wrong, more about those who don't than those who do.
post #2 of 3
They just need to pull the records set by the big steroid users....just like taking away the medals in the World Champs or Olympics.....erase Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire out of the record books....would be a good start.
post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
from the New York Times

May 5, 2004
Bonds Doesn't Give an Inch, as Usual

To the suspicious minds that cannot fathom his cartoonish might, for the Mona Lisa eyes that follow him wherever he goes, Barry Bonds offered his own version of a screening test for drugs last night.

"Do I look like I have ripped abs?" he said with a smile as he lifted his black Giants shirt to reveal a soft spot, proving that he does indeed have one. "I'd like to know where y'all got that I added 30 pounds of muscle, too."

This is what amounts to a steroid use denial - the Barry Bonds way. Inside a half circle that was four reporters thick at his locker, after putting down the hot tea he had been sipping for a cold, Bonds acted so at peace with his persecution that he seemed amused by it.

Please, was he distracted by the Balco investigation? "Does it look like it?" said the owner of a .463 batting average, a 1.111 slugging percentage and a 10-homer total that has pulled him into third place on the career list.

C'mon, was he worried that there were federal snoops out to get him? "You couldn't get me if you tried," he said.

What if there is nothing to get? What if Bonds's fuel burns clean?

In the months since authorities raided the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, since its founder, Victor Conte Jr., and Bonds's trainer, Greg Anderson, were indicted and accused of trafficking in steroids, anyone skeptical of Bonds's geriatric-proof muscle at age 39 felt validated in their doubts.

Uncertainty only fanned suspicions, but now there is a chance at closure for Bonds.

As Newsday first reported on Saturday, federal prosecutors have obtained steroid-test results of major league players that could reveal who among the 1,200 tested positive. Also, baseball officials confirmed that several urine samples had been seized, samples that could conceivably be retested for the previously undetectable steroid THG.

What if Bonds's name is on one of those paper cups?

The federal authorities have kept few secrets to this point. Given the authorities' habit of grandstanding behind the scenes, the test results (and retest results) of at least 10 players who testified before the grand jury in the Balco case, including Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, could be made public at some point soon.

"Why should I care?" Bonds responded. "My records ain't going nowhere."

Is this false bravado? Or does Bonds really have no reason to see an asterisk by his name in his future?

An answer to exonerate Bonds could pry open a Pandora's box for baseball. If the drug cheats are disclosed, it may quell the public's curiosity, end the daily inquisitions and clear guilt by association from the innocent, but it could throw the players union into disarray.

If embarrassed players feel betrayed by the disclosures of samples they believed were given anonymously, the fractures could foil consensus on developing a drug-testing policy with teeth.

As one baseball official said yesterday, the revelations would be counterproductive to progress that has been made between Major League Baseball and the players association.

That setback in labor negotiations could be Bonds's gain - if he is really drug free.

True to his surly nature, Bonds wouldn't concede anything to anyone, because, as he often proclaims, he doesn't care what anyone thinks. But Bonds needs proof of authentication more than any other player caught up in the Balco swirl because of the records he has broken and the marks he is bound to set.

History has his name stamped all over it. Certification is a must.

Despite his circumspect denials, Bonds has not been convincing to a public eager to heckle him outside San Francisco. There were spectators at Shea Stadium last night who were absolutely sure Bonds's test samples were muddy.

When Bonds emerged from the dugout during batting practice, a youngster yelled, "Hey Barry, look at my sign." Next to a proud father, the child held up a sign that read, "Do Yoga, Not Steroids."

This was a tame symbol of skepticism. Fans did not have a chance to give voice to their doubts in the form of chants because Bonds was kept out of the Giants' lineup because of a bad cold. A night of ridicule ducked.

In other cities, the fans have mocked Bonds with serenades of "Bal-co! Bal-co!" He has typically responded with arcing home runs in between intentional walks, getting in the last word without having to say anything. Very Barry.

A clean test result could say a lot for Bonds, though. To those who loathe Bonds for his aloof ways, his combative demeanor and his anticelebrity, a list of legal ingredients found in his urine won't provide enough evidence. He got away with one, they'll say.

But officially, what asterisk can you stamp on a man shown to have organic juice in his veins?

Any day now, the suspicions surrounding Bonds could end - or be validated - with one leak of a test result.

"Trust me, I'll be fine," Bonds said if such a thing happened. "I tell the truth."

The truth about Bonds could be in the hands of federal investigators right now.
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